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Companies Struggle Getting Customer Service Right

“Everyone is happy … except the customer.”

Each year, Zogby International conducts a survey to determine which companies are perceived by their customers as falling short in providing the simple basics of customer service.

In a world filled with competitive fires and recession-slashed budgets, it may seem amazing that a company manages to survive when nearly one-half of its customers say they provide “poor” customer service.

It may not be a surprise that AOL tops that list. It’s a supplier of what amounts to a commodity service in a high-volume, low price market. Big finance and cable/internet vendors quite simply fill the bottom-ten list.

It may be no surprise, but it’s certainly not inevitable, according to Money Magazine, Zogby’s publishing partner. There is, after all, variability from year to year in corporate top performers and miscreants. Oft-vilified targets of ire, like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s seem to be making strides toward recapturing the service-oriented glories of their early corporate existences.

On the other hand, big business names recently lauded for “gold-star service” are getting long looks from consumers who seem less than impressed (American Express and Whole Foods Market, for example).

Excellent customer service is expensive: CBS News research shows, for example, that it costs $7.50 per call for a dedicated customer service phone representative; figure one-third that amount, however, if the CSR is outsourced overseas, and by a factor of 20 – a mere 35¢ per call – if the phone caller is served by an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system (“… for Sales, press 1 …”).

Over the years, the CBS report notes, personal service has been replaced – first by the PBX and now by the IVR – and “everyone is happy … except the customer.”